I Found God in a Houseplant

August 10, 2020 / Chloe Bertrand

A hymn for my fiddle leaf fig. You sure made a Proverbs 31 woman out of me.

Front row Baptist girl with a few questions — me. A southern drawl slower than the second coming of Christ directed me to turn toward my neighbor and “ask how they’re doin’ today.” Big, big sigh. After 18 years of clammy Sunday morning handshakes in East Texas, a gospel I once witnessed to people became unfamiliar to me. Its followers sang of reckless love, yet most I knew exalted the opposite. They tongued messages of exclusivity reinforced by dated ideas — casting stones with eyes closed to their own befouled reflections. The church had root rot (it still does, arguably). So I left.

Now 21 going on my fourth year in Austin, I serve a new higher power. House plants. This faith is a tangible one, one that provides nearly instant and frequent gratification, albeit that alone undermines the essence of faith. Faith is patient, trusting goodwill to happen on its own time, relying on a force unseen, but this chlorophyll faith offers me peace no different.

My aunt gave me a four-foot fiddle leaf fig tree for Christmas, and it was a testing addition to my IKEA succulents and low-maintenance snake plants. We meet each Friday for watering, Tuesday for misting, Thursday for potting. Because, according to James 2:20, faith without works is dead.

I don’t pray to it; I just pray it doesn’t die.

In middle school, I had a spiritual checklist of fickle tasks to complete every day, hopeful to draw near to the heart of Christ. “Do morning devotional … Don't wear anything that could cause a brother to stumble … Tithe even though you’re 13 …” Sunday school and a little radio segment from Proverbs 31 Ministries sold me this mentality. A Proverbs 31 woman is the pinnacle of godliness in southern-fried Christianity. Yes, she does the cooking. Yes, she does the cleaning. Yes, she is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future. (To my dismay, she is not Nicki Minaj.) The epilogue of Proverbs 31 is a blueprint for the Wife of Noble Character. This woman of virtue is devoted to God above and her husband; 20 verses outline her expected discipline and honor. It never took for me.

I’m the fig’s bride. I serve this small tree, and it serves me. As it allows me to observe its growth, I learn patience. I open my blinds to let in the daylight, I dust its open palms, I rotate it 180 degrees for optimum comfort; it made me a nurturer, a homemaker. Filling my space with photosynthesis salvation, the plant puts me at ease. I protect it — perhaps because we both had humble beginnings. I was grown from mud pies on a porch in Edom, Texas, just the same way it breached soil at a darling-town nursery. Not once did it need MiracleGro. But it does grow miracles. The fig makes me hopeful without terms and conditions.

There was nothing sexy about jumping ship from a relationship with a sky dad I spoke to nearly every day for 16 years. I didn’t just roll my first joint and then no-show services for the rest of time. I felt, and still feel, a deep and hollow ache in my chest signifying a non-belonging. My worship was performative. I was an entertainer all of my life — I still am. So a sanctuary was just another stage to me. I mimicked the people around me, arms raising upwards to a Yahweh I knew in my mind yet unknown to my body. Though I wanted to know. Desperately. Now my plants grow toward the heavens. Are they mocking me?

I used to watch my mom sing to her fiddle leaf fig, coercing it to bring new growth. And now I’ve followed suit. Though I don’t fall to my knees when it gives me a baby leaf, I whisper a thank you only audible to the two of us. Little praises. Always the accompanying harmony to its rustling choir, a church bred habit I’ll never be able to shake (and I don’t want to).  I sing to my fig the same way I sang to God — the same way I, admittedly, hope to sing to God (or something) one day when I escape the comfort of ambiguity.

Believing in something bigger than ourselves is okay. Daydreams of life everlasting beyond the grave are important. Hope is good, and the church introduced me to hope. I cannot discount this teaching, sweet like Sunday hard candies still in my cheek.  I don’t think any one plant or person is beyond redemption. The sun rises again each morning, and we’re born new with it — better than the day before. From the stems of my fiddle, a mighty, green gospel rings out.

But I’m afraid I’ve no resolve to offer you. Scripture rests dormant in my head, cushioning my very secular ideas and imaginings. And sometimes I still pray to the God they tell of. ■

By: Chloe Bertrand

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